Term Paper Time

1. Schedule Your Paper

In this state of time-limited anxiety, you’re going to have the vicious urge to dive straight into writing. Don’t do it. Resist. Abort. Pace yourself first- chart out a decent amount of time in which you think you can write this paper. If you’re a slow, hesitant writer, an hour per page is the maximum I would ever suggest. In all likelihood, you can probably write a fairly decent ten to twelve page paper out in about five hours. Set this pace for yourself and then work carefully, but briskly. Let’s say you’ve allotted two hours to write a six to eight page essay. It’s a crunch, but you can manage. Spend a half hour researching your topic, a solid hour explaining what you’ve learned in paper format, and then spend the last half hour editing and compiling a bibliography.

2. Thesis and Introductory Paragraph

The thesis is the framework of the entire paper, and a good thesis automatically lends a more academic, positive outlook to the rest of your essay. Your thesis should very briefly outline the points you will make in the paper to support your claim. The thesis of your essay should always have some sort of claim, goal or overarching summary. Let’s say you were given the topic to analyze a movie and then compare it to the decade it was produced in. First, decide what you want to accomplish with your paper. It’s to explain how the movie represents the decade it was produced in. You need to convince your reader that a movie can be an accurate portrayal of its decade, even if the setting was in a different time period. You should avoid flowery prose in a thesis and instead be concise and simple. Place your thesis at the end of the introductory paragraph, after four or five quality sentences that roughly very basic ideas and facts about the topic. Don’t give it all away though- you want to draw your reader in.

“The movie How To Marry A Millionaire is an accurate representation of the nineteen fifties through its rendering of family values, consumerism and portrayal of women.”

You can either begin writing about the first of those three subtopics in the next paragraph, or according to your needs or instructor’s requirements, you can follow with a paragraph describing the topic in more detail to allow the reader to follow along with more ease. Afterward, devote a solid analysis and description to each of the three subtopics. Each subtopic should have around three sources that compliment what you’re saying, but do not replace your ideas. For a Thesis to be as solid as possible, always have at least three subtopics that revolve around your main topic to create a good basis for your argument or ideas. Any less is too weak and the thesis will be unable to stand on its own.

3. Research

Here is where your essay will live or die. The more research you can provide, without drowning your TA or professor in useless facts, the better. You need to prove that you’ve thought deeply about your topic and sifted through various resources over a period of several weeks, even if you haven’t. If your paper requires book sources, utilize your campus library. If not, Google is your savior. Plug in your topic followed by your subtopic keywords. Stay on the first three pages and peruse carefully. Don’t click through every search option. Look at the title, summary and web address carefully. You want good, solid sources. If you use a quote or fact from the web, follow it with an in text citation (if your college uses footnotes, use those instead). Generally an in text citation will have the author’s last name followed by the page number with a single space in between, like so (Smith 56).

Some of the time, Google will not return sources that are academic in nature, and so you must turn to databases- I recommend you use databases more than Google searches, simply because the wealth of knowledge is far more expansive and most likely to be legitimate. Log on to your school’s library webpage and search for database options; I guarantee your school’s library will have several to choose from, and from there, you will have access to many scholarly schools that you can incorporate into your paper.

4. Body Paragraphs

Once you’ve established your thesis and introductory paragraph, move on to the body paragraphs. I find this format to be the most helpful for outlining a simple but quality paragraph.

Sentence 1: Summary of Subtopic point- Family values were important to American’s of the nineteen fifties….

Sentence 2: Analysis- quickly analyze why you think sentence one is true.

Sentence 3: Fact- back up sentence two and lend support to sentence one through the use of a relevant fact. Make sure you cite your source correctly.

Sentence 4: More analysis.

Sentence 5: Quote- Quotes from credible sources can be powerful, but should be used sparingly, otherwise your own words will be drowned out and the paper will be little more than cut and paste plagiarism. Find a quote that says something similar to your analysis and use it as support for your ideas. Do not let it replace your ideas or be the springboard for them.

Sentence 6: Analyze the quote and how it relates to the point you’re making with your subtopic.

This basic framework for a body paragraph makes it easy to plug in your sentences. You must be careful to provide plenty of your own thoughts and ideas, and use quotes to compliment them. Facts support your ideas and quotes compliment them. Remember that. Plagiarism is stealing, and it’s downright lazy and one of the rudest things you can do to another person. Not only does it have very serious consequences, but it’s just not cool. Don’t do it.

5. Conclusion

The conclusion of your paragraph needs to restate all your previous ideas. Summarize your paper basically, avoiding repetitive phrases and already stated facts or ideas. Mention your subtopics again and reaffirm how they support your overarching topic. Leave your reader with a sentence that makes them think about the topic for a moment after they’ve finished the paper- a question or a thought-provoking sentence, for example.

6. Troubleshooting

If you’re having trouble with your paper and feeling stuck, go for a quick five minute run. Run briskly and breathe deeply. On your return, drink some water and eat a light snack. Get back to work. You can write this paper, and you will.

7. Finishing Up

Okay, so you’ve churned out as many pages or words as you need to. You’re done with the bulk of the work and over the hump. Now you can start editing and revising. Make this quick. Read through your paper silently first, fixing any mistakes you notice. Now, compile your bibliography- collect all your sources, format them properly and quickly using easybib.com and get a quick drink. Come back to your paper and read it out loud, as if you’re presenting it to an audience. This helps you catch any other mistakes you might have missed. Shore up any weak arguments with a quick sentence containing a source or with more analysis or argument. Add a title if necessary. If you don’t have time to come up with a creative title, be boring, but be true. For example: “How to Marry a Millionaire: Cultural Connections in the Nineteen Fifties.”

Simple, quick, done. Writing a paper is a formula with specific components that you just need to plug data into, and can easily be simplified beyond what many stressed college students may think. Take a deep breath, break things down, find your data, and insert it into the proper locations. You will not get the grade you probably could have gotten if you’d started well in advance, but you won’t flunk the assignment either and you can alleviate some of the dread that accompanies writing a paper last minute. Now, get some sleep and try to plan better next time.

Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez.
Summary:

This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

Writing a Research Paper

The Research Paper

There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal of unneeded anxiety in the student, which may result in procrastination and a feeling of confusion and inadequacy. This anxiety frequently stems from the fact that many students are unfamiliar and inexperienced with this genre of writing. Never fear—inexperience and unfamiliarity are situations you can change through practice! Writing a research paper is an essential aspect of academics and should not be avoided on account of one's anxiety. In fact, the process of writing a research paper can be one of the more rewarding experiences one may encounter in academics. What is more, many students will continue to do research throughout their careers, which is one of the reasons this topic is so important.

Becoming an experienced researcher and writer in any field or discipline takes a great deal of practice. There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally. Remember, even the most seasoned academic veterans have had to learn how to write a research paper at some point in their career. Therefore, with diligence, organization, practice, a willingness to learn (and to make mistakes!), and, perhaps most important of all, patience, students will find that they can achieve great things through their research and writing.

This handout will include the following sections related to the process of writing a research paper:

  • Genre- This section will provide an overview for understanding the difference between an analytical and argumentative research paper.
  • Choosing a Topic- This section will guide the student through the process of choosing topics, whether the topic be one that is assigned or one that the student chooses himself.
  • Identifying an Audience- This section will help the student understand the often times confusing topic of audience by offering some basic guidelines for the process.
  • Where Do I Begin- This section concludes the handout by offering several links to resources at Purdue, and also provides an overview of the final stages of writing a research paper.
Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez.
Summary:

This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

Genre and the Research Paper

Research: What it is.

A research paper is the culmination and final product of an involved process of research, critical thinking, source evaluation, organization, and composition. It is, perhaps, helpful to think of the research paper as a living thing, which grows and changes as the student explores, interprets, and evaluates sources related to a specific topic. Primary and secondary sources are the heart of a research paper, and provide its nourishment; without the support of and interaction with these sources, the research paper would morph into a different genre of writing (e.g., an encyclopedic article). The research paper serves not only to further the field in which it is written, but also to provide the student with an exceptional opportunity to increase her knowledge in that field. It is also possible to identify a research paper by what it is not.

Research: What it is not.

A research paper is not simply an informed summary of a topic by means of primary and secondary sources. It is neither a book report nor an opinion piece nor an expository essay consisting solely of one's interpretation of a text nor an overview of a particular topic. Instead, it is a genre that requires one to spend time investigating and evaluating sources with the intent to offer interpretations of the texts, and not unconscious regurgitations of those sources. The goal of a research paper is not to inform the reader what others have to say about a topic, but to draw on what others have to say about a topic and engage the sources in order to thoughtfully offer a unique perspective on the issue at hand. This is accomplished through two major types of research papers.

Two major types of research papers.

Argumentative research paper:

The argumentative research paper consists of an introduction in which the writer clearly introduces the topic and informs his audience exactly which stance he intends to take; this stance is often identified as the thesis statement. An important goal of the argumentative research paper is persuasion, which means the topic chosen should be debatable or controversial. For example, it would be difficult for a student to successfully argue in favor of the following stance.

Cigarette smoking poses medical dangers and may lead to cancer for both the smoker and those who experience secondhand smoke.

Perhaps 25 years ago this topic would have been debatable; however, today, it is assumed that smoking cigarettes is, indeed, harmful to one's health. A better thesis would be the following.

Although it has been proven that cigarette smoking may lead to sundry health problems in the smoker, the social acceptance of smoking in public places demonstrates that many still do not consider secondhand smoke as dangerous to one's health as firsthand smoke.

In this sentence, the writer is not challenging the current accepted stance that both firsthand and secondhand cigarette smoke is dangerous; rather, she is positing that the social acceptance of the latter over the former is indicative of a cultural double-standard of sorts. The student would support this thesis throughout her paper by means of both primary and secondary sources, with the intent to persuade her audience that her particular interpretation of the situation is viable.

Analytical research paper:

The analytical research paper often begins with the student asking a question (a.k.a. a research question) on which he has taken no stance. Such a paper is often an exercise in exploration and evaluation. For example, perhaps one is interested in the Old English poem Beowulf. He has read the poem intently and desires to offer a fresh reading of the poem to the academic community. His question may be as follows.

How should one interpret the poem Beowulf?

His research may lead him to the following conclusion.

Beowulf is a poem whose purpose it was to serve as an exemplum of heterodoxy for tenth- and eleventh-century monastic communities.

Though his topic may be debatable and controversial, it is not the student's intent to persuade the audience that his ideas are right while those of others are wrong. Instead, his goal is to offer a critical interpretation of primary and secondary sources throughout the paper--sources that should, ultimately, buttress his particular analysis of the topic. The following is an example of what his thesis statement may look like once he has completed his research.

Though Beowulf is often read as a poem that recounts the heroism and supernatural exploits of the protagonist Beowulf, it may also be read as a poem that served as an exemplum of heterodoxy for tenth- and eleventh-century monastic communities found in the Danelaw.

This statement does not negate the traditional readings of Beowulf; instead, it offers a fresh and detailed reading of the poem that will be supported by the student's research.

It is typically not until the student has begun the writing process that his thesis statement begins to take solid form. In fact, the thesis statement in an analytical paper is often more fluid than the thesis in an argumentative paper. Such is one of the benefits of approaching the topic without a predetermined stance.

Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez.
Summary:

This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

Choosing a Topic

The first step of any research paper is for the student to understand the assignment. If this is not done, the student will often travel down many dead-end roads, wasting a great deal of time along the way. Do not hesitate to approach the instructor with questions if there is any confusion. A clear understanding of the assignment will allow you to focus on other aspects of the process, such as choosing a topic and identifying your audience.

Topic

A student will often encounter one of two situations when it comes to choosing a topic for a research paper. The first situation occurs when the instructor provides a list of topics from which the student may choose. These topics have been deemed worthy by the instructor; therefore, the student should be confident in the topic he chooses from the list. Many first-time researchers appreciate such an arrangement by the instructor because it eliminates the stress of having to decide upon a topic on their own.

However, the student may also find the topics that have been provided to be limiting; moreover, it is not uncommon for the student to have a topic in mind that does not fit with any of those provided. If this is the case, it is always beneficial to approach the instructor with one's ideas. Be respectful, and ask the instructor if the topic you have in mind would be a possible research option for the assignment. Remember, as a first-time researcher, your knowledge of the process is quite limited; the instructor is experienced, and may have very precise reasons for choosing the topics she has offered to the class. Trust that she has the best interests of the class in mind. If she likes the topic, great! If not, do not take it personally and choose the topic from the list that seems most interesting to you.

The second situation occurs when the instructor simply hands out an assignment sheet that covers the logistics of the research paper, but leaves the choice of topic up to the student. Typically, assignments in which students are given the opportunity to choose the topic require the topic to be relevant to some aspect of the course; so, keep this in mind as you begin a course in which you know there will be a research paper near the end. That way, you can be on the lookout for a topic that may interest you. Do not be anxious on account of a perceived lack of authority or knowledge about the topic chosen. Instead, realize that it takes practice to become an experienced researcher in any field. 

For a discussion of Evaluating Sources, see Evaluating Sources of Information.

Methods for choosing a topic

Thinking early leads to starting early. If the student begins thinking about possible topics when the assignment is given, she has already begun the arduous, yet rewarding, task of planning and organization. Once she has made the assignment a priority in her mind, she may begin to have ideas throughout the day. Brainstorming is often a successful way for students to get some of these ideas down on paper. Seeing one's ideas in writing is often an impetus for the writing process. Though brainstorming is particularly effective when a topic has been chosen, it can also benefit the student who is unable to narrow a topic. It consists of a timed writing session during which the student jots down—often in list or bulleted form—any ideas that come to his mind. At the end of the timed period, the student will peruse his list for patterns of consistency. If it appears that something seems to be standing out in his mind more than others, it may be wise to pursue this as a topic possibility.

It is important for the student to keep in mind that an initial topic that you come up with may not be the exact topic about which you end up writing. Research topics are often fluid, and dictated more by the student's ongoing research than by the original chosen topic. Such fluidity is common in research, and should be embraced as one of its many characteristics.

The Purdue OWL also offers a number of other resources on choosing and developing a topic:

Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez.
Summary:

This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

Identifying Audiences

The concept of audience can be very confusing for novice researchers. Should the student's audience be her instructor only, or should her paper attempt to reach a larger academic crowd? These are two extremes on the pendulum-course that is audience; the former is too narrow of an audience, while the latter is too broad. Therefore, it is important for the student to articulate an audience that falls somewhere in between.

It is perhaps helpful to approach the audience of a research paper in the same way one would when preparing for an oral presentation. Often, one changes her style, tone, diction, etc., when presenting to different audiences. It is the same when writing a research paper. In fact, you may need to transform your written work into an oral work if you find yourself presenting at a conference someday.

The instructor should be considered only one member of the paper's audience; he is part of the academic audience that desires students to investigate, research, and evaluate a topic. Try to imagine an audience that would be interested in and benefit from your research.

For example: if the student is writing a twelve-page research paper about ethanol and its importance as an energy source of the future, would she write with an audience of elementary students in mind? This would be unlikely. Instead, she would tailor her writing to be accessible to an audience of fellow engineers and perhaps to the scientific community in general. What is more, she would assume the audience to be at a certain educational level; therefore, she would not spend time in such a short research paper defining terms and concepts already familiar to those in the field. However, she should also avoid the type of esoteric discussion that condescends to her audience. Again, the student must articulate a middle-ground.

The following are questions that may help the student discern further her audience:

  • Who is the general audience I want to reach?
  • Who is most likely to be interested in the research I am doing?
  • What is it about my topic that interests the general audience I have discerned?
  • If the audience I am writing for is not particularly interested in my topic, what should I do to pique its interest?
  • Will each member of the broadly conceived audience agree with what I have to say?
  • If not (which will likely be the case!) what counter-arguments should I be prepared to answer?

Remember, one of the purposes of a research paper is to add something new to the academic community, and the first-time researcher should understand her role as an initiate into a particular community of scholars. As the student increases her involvement in the field, her understanding of her audience will grow as well. Once again, practice lies at the heart of the thing.

Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez.
Summary:

This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

Where do I Begin?

There is neither template nor shortcut for writing a research paper; again, the process is, amongst other things, one of practice, experience, and organization, and begins with the student properly understanding the assignment at hand.

As many college students know, the writer may find himself composing three quite different research papers for three quite different courses all at the same time in a single semester. Each of these papers may have varying page lengths, guidelines, and expectations.

Therefore, in order for a student to become an experienced researcher and writer, she must not only pay particular attention to the genre, topic, and audience, but must also become skilled in researching, outlining, drafting, and revising.

Research

For a discussion of where to begin one's research, see Research: Overview.

Outlining

Outlining is an integral part of the process of writing. For a detailed discussion see Developing an Outline .

Drafting

Drafting is one of the last stages in the process of writing a research paper. No drafting should take place without a research question or thesis statement; otherwise, the student will find himself writing without a purpose or direction. Think of the research question or thesis statement as a compass. The research the student has completed is a vast sea of information through which he must navigate; without a compass, the student will be tossed aimlessly about by the waves of sources. In the end, he might discover the Americas (though the journey will be much longer than needed), or—and what is more likely—he will sink.

For some helpful ideas concerning the initial stages of writing, see Starting the Writing Process .

Revising, Editing, Proofreading

Revising is the process consisting of:

  • Major, sweeping, changes to the various drafts of a project
  • An evaluation of word choice throughout the project
  • The removal paragraphs and sometimes, quite painfully, complete pages of text
  • Rethinking the whole project and reworking it as needed

Editing is a process interested in the general appearance of a text, and includes the following:

  • Analysis of the consistency of tone and voice throughout the project
  • Correction of minor errors in mechanics and typography
  • Evaluation of the logical flow of thought between paragraphs and major ideas

This process is best completed toward the final stages of the project, since much of what is written early on is bound to change anyway.

Proofreading is the final stage in the writing process, and consists of a detailed final reread in order to find any mistakes that may have been overlooked in the previous revisions.

For a discussion of proofreading, see Proofreading Your Writing .

Contributors: Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee, Ashley Velázquez.
Summary:

This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

Writing a Research Paper: Generating Questions & Topics Workshop

This workshop discusses strategies for getting started on a research paper, including generating questions and ideas for topics. To download the PowerPoint file, click on the above link.

Please note that this workshop was developed as part of the Purdue Language and Culture Exchange (PLaCE) program for Purdue University's West Lafayette campus. PLaCE focuses on providing international students with additional linguistic and cultural support as the acclimate to the North American higher educational context.

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